The hilly region of Sauerland, between Cologne and Kassel, proves that altitude isn’t everything when it comes to wintersports.
There’s a ski region an hour’s drive east of Cologne and Düsseldorf that not many people have heard of, not even Germans. Start to tell them about this self-styled ‘largest snow paradise north of the Alps’, and they’ll look at you as if you were mad. But it is there, in Sauerland, with a dozen different venues (biggest names Willingen and Winterberg) and over 100 pistes. And yet its peaks rarely reach higher than 800 metres.
There are several advantages to such a low-lying ski destination. If you go skiing up in the Alps, you will be incarcerating yourself in a purpose-built (ie ugly) community, high in the mountains, where skiing is practically the only occupation on offer, and where the price of everything is suitably inflated. What happens if you don’t like it? You get tired of it? Or one of you gets injured? Too bad. You’re stuck in your mountain fastness for a week, and you’ll just have to grin and bear it, and watch others having fun while your cash drains away.
Snow cannons work hard when conditions are right
Sauerland’s lower altitude means that it is warmer, but also that its snow is far less reliable, although snow cannons work hard to supplement what nature donates. Accordingly it’s a destination for shorter stays and last-minute decisions, and for people who want to mix skiing with other activities for a broader-based stay. It is also a great deal cheaper, with a day pass at Winterberg (more than 50 ski lifts) costing €20, half the price of a pass in the Alps.
Specialities here are toboggan runs, cross country routes and floodlit skiing to accommodate locals who want to ski after work, and there’s a big après- ski scene, particularly in the mountain hut on Ettelsberg. The weekends can get particularly busy with Dutch visitors, for whom Sauerland is no secret.
One you’ve had enough of the skiing, you’ve got the heartland of the Brothers Grimm just nearby (their museum is in Kassel) and the best of Germany’s designer shopping in Düsseldorf. Meanwhile Dortmund and Essen, to the northwest, are home to great examples of how Germany has turned its industrial dinosaurs into tourist attractions, particularly with Essen’s Zeche Zollverein, ‘the most beautiful coal mine in the world.’
If you prefer your skiing to be more demanding than Sauerland can offer, but still German, see our page on Germany’s Alpine resorts. And there are other ski destinations in the Black Forest, in the Harz Mountains and over in the Ore Mountains and in Thuringia.
Click here for information on the Sauerland wintersports arena.